Today is hard.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s hard.  Hard to see all the pictures posted of smiling kids on their first day of school.  Kids who’ve brushed their hair, wearing seasonally appropriate clothing holding up a sign proudly announcing their first day of school.  It’s hard to see the teachers lined up, forming a tunnel celebrating and holding up streamers to welcome each child that comes through– knowing it’s gonna be difficult for your child to walk through.  It’s hard, knowing your child has had a constant stomach ache for the past week– filled with anxiety for a new year, a new teacher, and mostly new classmates.

This child is beautiful and brilliant and a complete joy to be with.  But this world is so difficult for her to navigate.  She doesn’t understand so much about communication and social interaction.  She doesn’t understand why kids her age don’t want to play the same thing she does.  She doesn’t understand why they can’t talk (or listen) for hours on end about the latest youtube video she’s watched, or about Harry Potter.  She struggles to interpret tone of voice, and body language.  Conversation she does make with others is largely “cut and paste” from things she has heard– she manages to script the dialogue enough to get by.

She often rejects any “typical” show of kindness that is shown to her.  It is hard for her to appropriately reciprocate your smile, your hug, your hello, your offer to be included.  Yet, she wants more than anything to feel like a part of the group.

We drove down the road yesterday, just the two of us, and she said, “Mommy I have a problem about myself.”  I said, “What is it sweet girl?”  “You know how I can mimic people?  I find myself sounding just like “stacyplays” or “seri pixel biologist” (these are you tubers).  And I’m not even meaning to.”  So I ask, “Well what does Kellyn sound like?”  She replied in complete monotone, “I don’t know.”  And my heart broke a little bit.

My heart broke a little more when I saw the fear and anxiety upon seeing the extravagant welcome waiting for her at school.  She got out of the van, ran through the tunnel with a grimace on her face and her hands clasped over her ears.  It was loud, it was interactive, and most of all it was DIFFERENT.

Don’t get me wrong, there is SO much about this girl that is unbelievably beautiful and unique.  But today it’s hard.  Today, I am praying she makes it through this first day of a scary new year, without having to hide behind a bookcase, or pull a blanket out of her backpack, or chew on her shirt until its soaked.  I gave her a light jacket of mine to wear because I new it was comforting because it smelled like me, and I thought it would cause a 4th grader less embarrassment than having a blanket with her at school.

Today is also hard because I have another daughter, one who has often had to play the role of the older sister, even though she is younger.  The one who has had to manage.  The one who has lived in fear of her sister getting upset, yet loves her more than life itself.  The one who is a social butterfly, excited about school, and in many ways like a little adult.  I am so thankful that most things seem to come easy for her.  She is growing up more with more empathy and sensitivity than I could ever hope for.  May she one day she it as a gift.

In all of this, I become more determined to be the parent willing to put in the hard work. To help my kids become independent and equip them to find their place in this world.  I will do whatever it takes to put the processes in place for them to grow, to be kind, to be brave.  And I need all the help I can get.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2

You make me brave… you make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves.
You make me brave… you make me brave.
No fear can hinder now the promises you’ve made.  -Amanda Lindsey Cook

The kingdom is like a blue-winged wasp

Last week we were in Pigeon Forge at Dollywood with our family.  At one point I was with my youngest and we were taking a little break on one of the playground areas.  She was sitting on this caterpillar sculpture looking down at what appeared to be a blue- winged wasp.  A little boy came over and said “Oh a Wasp!” and raised his foot to stomp it.  “Wait!” she said, with his foot mid-air.  “That’s a blue winged wasp… he’s not aggressive and we need the wasps to help pollinate the flowers and trees!”

The little boy slowly lowered his foot and begin to ask her questions about wasps, bees, and all sorts of other insects.  The next thing you know she had him and a friend investigating a lady bug they found crawling along– they were asking her what lady bugs eat– and she was making up answers as if she were a true naturalist….

In a moment I heard the Spirit gently say to me… “and this is what we need, is it not?  People who proclaim what life COULD be.  We don’t have to crush and kill what we are afraid of.  Maybe the kingdom of God is really about learning to UNDERSTAND instead of FEAR… and being able to demonstrate that to others….”

Then wolves will live in peace with lambs,
    and leopards will lie down to rest with goats.
Calves, lions, and young bulls will eat together,
    and a little child will lead them.
Cows and bears will eat together in peace.
    Their young will lie down to rest together.
    Lions will eat hay as oxen do.
A baby will be able to play near a cobra’s hole,
    and a child will be able to put his hand into the nest of a poisonous snake.
They will not hurt or destroy each other
    on all my holy mountain,
because the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord,
    as the sea is full of water.   

Isaiah 11:6-9 (NCV)

Jesus Among Us

Many of you may know it has been quite a year of transition for me.  I have gone through a period of deconstructing my thoughts and feelings around the institution of church.  I recently read this by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

I feel like for years I had been working, striving so hard to follow a dream.  A human dream— one I had created in my mind of what the church should look like and be.  Through a series of “unfortunate events” that dream came crashing down, and I found myself floundering, disillusioned and hurt.

Bonhoeffer also said, “The church is not a religious community of worshippers of Christ,  but it is Christ himself who has taken form among people.” 

Through these humble and kind people I and my family have experienced Christ himself saying “Come to me you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”  I am experiencing true community through  people who have nothing in common but their love for Christ and each other.  No high and lofty dreams just faithful people encouraging each other, asking what does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  For this I am truly grateful!

Sometimes you get lucky

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This weekend I got to participate in a “friendly” game of “dirty santa”– an ornament exchange.  If you’re not familiar with it, everyone draws a number.  When your number is up, you can either choose a gift from the middle to open or steal a gift that is already out there.  Often times there are a few popular gifts that get stolen and make several trips around the group.

My seven year old played with me in her first round of dirty santa at this party.  The game had gotten really good- with lots of steals happening.  She waited for just the right moment– when a silence had fallen over the group and a friend was trying to decide what course of action to take– to say profoundly (as only little kids can) “You never know, if you pick one from the middle you just might get lucky…”

The gift of this statement didn’t open up to me until a day later.  You see, I have been in a season of indecision in my life.  I have a chance to take a new direction.  I am like the friend, standing there trying to decide– do I take what I have seen and am familiar with– which is traveling around the circle, or do I take a chance- reach out into the middle– and maybe I’ll get lucky.

I don’t know about you, but I think she’s right.  In this season, I think I’ll not keep chasing that elusive yet familiar gift as it makes it rounds.  I think I’ll reach for something new, something different, something unknown even.  Who knows?  I might just get lucky.

 

After speaking for a while, Jesus speaks to Simon:  Move out into deeper water, and drop your nets to see what you’ll catch.” -Luke 5:4

Empathy and Sharing the Brokenness

I apologize that a lot of my noticing come from my children’s play… but gosh, it is often SO profound.

These little animatronic characters’ parts don’t always stay together while they are playing.  Today right in the middle of the play was this short exchange:

Kid 1:  “Hey, I’m sorry if my arm comes off every now and then.”

Kid 2:  “It’s OK!   I break apart ALL the time.”

Playing carries on….

img_0762.jpgFriends, when life hurts and we are vulnerable — what a comfort to be surrounded by a friend(s) that tells us the truth– “It’s ok!  We ALL fall apart sometimes.”  Carry on playing my people.

Behind the need to communicate is the need to share. Behind the need to share is the need to be understood. -Leo Rosten

Progress, Not Perfection

I have struggled in my life with the trap of perfectionism.  It keeps me from getting started on things, it causes me anxiety, and its like chasing that ever elusive carrot.    For what?  IF I arrived at perfection in a certain area, then what would I do?  Start the whole crazy process over again?

I have  new mantra.  “Progress, Not Perfection.”  And its really helping.  I mean it!  I think I am gonna put it on a T-shirt.  Forward motion is my goal.

We had an incident this week that beautifully illustrated my new mantra.  We were sitting at the dentist office AFTER our appointment waiting.  We were waiting on a ride because our car wouldn’t go when we started it.  Did I mention it had already been a long day?  Well, thankfully the girls had some toys with them to keep them occupied.

During this time of waiting and playing, we had a doll that had the unfortunate occurrence of losing a hand.  We looked everywhere, retraced our steps… but just couldn’t find it.

My older daughter (who REALLY struggles with crippling perfectionism as well) was distraught at first.  She finally gave in and said, “Well, we’ll just put it where no one can see it,” as she tucked the arm behind the doll’s back.IMG_0614

This made me sad, and of course, I too was upset that the doll wasn’t perfect anymore.

After a while, as the play continued, I noticed something.  The arm had come out from behind the back and I heard the word “cannon” in the dialogue.  I leaned in a little closer and said, “what’s happening now?”  Turns out this girl now had super powers of some kind shooting out of her cannon arm.

YES…. THIS.

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Progress.
[noun prog-res, -ruh s or, esp. British, proh-gres; verb pruhgres]

noun- 1.  a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage.

This is the best of what we can hope for right?  In every area of our life- spiritual growth, health, finances, relationships… just KEEP moving forward.  Then suddenly you’ll look back and realized that stub has now become a CANNON.  Yeah!

 

 

Faith Like a Child: Grieving 101

In general, our culture does not allow us to grieve well.  We do not mourn and we don’t allow others to mourn.  Maybe it’s because we are so invincible or at least desire to be.  We don’t want to look death in the face, to sit with it, as generations past had done.  We apologize for honest tears.

But children, (in my opinion)… they just get all things holy.  They are so real and honest and not burdened by social expectation or appropriateness as we define it.

I lead an outdoor class for children.  After it’s over, I take my time cleaning up and packing up, and I am often blessed by my children and the way they wander, around in the greenspace, imagining, creating, continuing to play.  They almost become little sprites, or ghostlike fairy creatures in their time in nature….

But I digress.  Today an inchworm named Mr. Stick was studied and observed, befriended, and then at some point, lost.  My youngest went to wait in the van to tinker around until I was finished with cleanup.  She became very busy working on something, and then finally came to me and said “Mommy, I want to show you something.”

It was an altar of sorts that she created.  It consisted of a toy tea drink, a couple of leaves, a stick and a feather– all carefully placed.  Intrigued I said, “tell me about this.”

She replied, “it represents all I have lost.”

“Oh? Explain that to me.”

“The first leaf is for Mr. Stick, and the second leaf represents all the other worms and caterpillars I have lost;  the stick is for Darian,” (her friend who left her heartbroken by moving away during her kindergarten year), “…and the feather is for Charlie.” (her parakeet who had died).

“What is the tea for?”

“For me to sit here and raise the glass as I think about them.”  (yes, she seriously said that)

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“Wow sister.  That’s powerful.  That’s really special.  Thank you for showing me that, can I take a picture?”

Losing the inchworm gave her an opportunity to:
1) Reflect.   She didn’t rush past the pain of it.  She took time to connect spiritually.  To realize that she has encountered many losses, each one with their own meaning.

2) Name them.  One of the most powerful things you can do in the loss of someone you love is continue to name them.  We hesitate to do that for some reason, we are filled with fear or worried it will cause more hurt.  No, to name the loved one brings honor, acknowledgement and memories.

3) Understand that grief can many many forms.  She included the sense of loss in her friend moving away as well as the death of her beloved pet.  I think we are often dealing with grief and we don’t even realize it, or name it for the loss that it is.  Relationships sever, jobs go away, a move happens– so many more things that represent a “death”; and if we don’t take time to acknowledge this loss, we can carry with us a heavy unnamed weight that we don’t quite understand.  It’s grief.

4) Celebrate and remember the good. The pause, the raising of the glass, the commemoration.  How important to do this when we want to cherish the memory of those we hold dear.  After all, maybe the greater the sadness we feel, the greater the love must have been?  Or in other circumstances, maybe to take a moment and raise the glass for what was good about the relationships we now miss, the job that went away, or the gift was found  in a time of upheaval, transition and change.

I’m telling you kids get it.  We are never the same after a loss. The fabric of our story changes.  I am grieving many many things at this time in my life.  But you know what?  In this season, now I think I will continue to find healing as I embrace the things I’ve lost,  the people I miss, name them, reflect, and celebrate, remembering the good and precious memories.

What if I stumble, what if I fall?

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These two young ladies are the most precious gifts I’ve ever received.  I am watching them grow up so fast.  Like many parents, I share the weight of not feeling like I am “doing enough” to ensure they grow up to be independent, functional adults (haha!).

Well, we are embarking on a new adventure August 1st.  They are going to begin public school at home (online).  I am both excited and terrified at the same time.  This decision has been very difficult for me.  They have had a GREAT and supportive experience and wonderful, LOVING teachers at their local elementary school.  Simultaneous to this, I have felt a strong urge, push, desire- whatever you would call it– to teach them– to be more directly involved in their learning.   Simultaneous to this, my job situation radically changed (nice way of putting it) to allow me more hours in the day to invest into them.

My background is in education, and I have often missed the classroom upon visiting the girls at their school.  I chose to go the K-12 virtual learning experience- the school is called TNVA (TN virtual academy).  I hope this will make for a more seamless experience in the the curriculum, and a way to still be involved in public school.  This is especially important if it all goes bad and I send them back to their “brick & mortar” school! Which leads me to my next point…

What if I stumble, what if I fall?  What if I make fools of us all?  Some have questioned my decision.  It’s even hard for me to explain why I feel the urge to do it.  I feel guilt for them not being back at their school this year, but I feel similar guilt in not following this urge.

What I do know:  I love to teach and facilitate activities for kids.  I teach tinkergarten at a local park and work with the kids at church.  Why would I not want to be more involved in the daily learning experience for my girls?  I look forward to see how our relationship will grow in this next year.

Yes, I am looking forward to a slower paced morning (though they will start virtual classes at 8); I am looking forward to doing our own PE at the park, riding bikes, or going on hikes; I am looking forward to teaching them piano or guitar; I am looking forward to letting them have breaks to play with the dog, or the hamsters, or the parakeets.  I am looking forward to working daily on life skills– learning about money, helping around the house, cooking class or whatever 🙂

I am worried that we will all get sick of each other.  I am worried that I will feel like I need a break.  I am worried that they will have a hard time comprehending that this is SCHOOl and they have to do it.

Nothing is final, and I am committing to this for one year.  I am hoping that it is a year which will shape all of our futures for the positive!  I welcome any and all encouragement as we start on this journey.

Songwriters Daniel Joseph and Toby McKeehan best sum up my feelings at this time:

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall?

 

Cheetos, Yes please? or No, thank you!

4193gJNQLvLMy oldest daughter hates Cheetos.  Specifically, she hates the smell of Cheetos.  She is convinced that she has a Cheeto allergy.  What makes this difficult is that my younger daughter LOVES Cheetos.

Recently the younger found a bag cheetos where we were, and dared to go into the presence of the older whilst eating them.  I heard the older say (disgustedly) ” You came near me with Cheetos!”

As if.  How dare she?

I get so tired of this exchange and I tell my daughter, “you will encounter Cheetos in this life, and if you can’t handle it, you need to remove yourself from the Cheetos.”

And then I realized, I have done the same.  When things don’t go to my liking, I often complain… feel put out, disgusted… “why is this happening in my realm– how dare this happen to me?”  I’ve pounded and pounded at an issue trying to bring change, when hindsight has often told me- “YOU are the one that didn’t like it, why didn’t you walk away– remove yourself from the situation?”

Friends, there will be Cheetos that we encounter; things that in and of themselves aren’t inherently wrong or bad.  But the question I have decided I need to ask myself now is, “Do I expect this environment or circumstance to change to suit my liking, or do I need to be the one to change my environment or circumstance?”

Happy Snacking!

Smart Vulnerability

We were running some errands in town the other day, and I noticed some beautiful thistles.  I stopped the car and jumped out, waded through some weeds and took pictures.  Thistles can grow anywhere, and some consider them a nuisance, but they are also known for having healing and cleansing properties for the liver, heart, and skin.  Of course, there is some wisdom to be found in the thistle as well…

Growing up, I was more inward, shy, and guarded than I am now.  I never wanted anyone to see past the perfect exterior I presented lest they discover some blemishes.

Over time, I realized that pride was the source of my protective wall.  Having children greatly impacted not only my pride but also my ability to keep everything perfect, clean, and in order.  I began to embrace the messy.   Vulnerability was where it was at, right?  How could I be in real relationships with people if I never let them truly know me?  I found myself letting more people in, and the stress levels in my life caused me to often gush or dump everything on the nearest person who would listen.

Well, my kids are a little older now, life doesn’t feel as chaotic, and I have learned a lesson from being overly vulnerable.  Now I find the thistle inspires me to a middle ground.  You can take in its beauty, but don’t try to pick it.  Ouch!  Be beautiful, bloom anywhere you can… show yourself for who you are; but simultaneously be smart and protect yourself.

The wisdom of Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart more than anything else, because the source of your life flows from it.”  Even Jesus said, “Don’t give something that is holy to dogs. They will only turn and hurt you. And don’t throw your pearls to pigs. They will only step on them.” (Matthew 7:6)

If the thistle never bloomed and remained closed up and prickly, it would never live life, and others would not be blessed by its beauty.

If it opened into bloom with no thorns for protection it would be quickly eaten, its time cut short.

Somewhere in this scenario is a “both/and.”  I want to share myself with those around me, but a little self-preservation may prolong my life and my purpose. 🙂

“Open not your heart to every person. But only to Him who is wise, discreet, and reverant. Desire to be familiar only with God and his angels.” –Thomas a Kempis